In the first and most profound sense, let me state that information management is a topical issue, even on a global scale at this momentous period when all hands are on deck in search of self-reliance and post-COVID-19 economic recovery as corner-stones for global development. Certainly, the era of globalization makes Freedom of Information and Governance very important development objectives. The starting point here is to determine the importance of information managers to peaceful human co-existence, while also providing the platform for interactions between the press and government (including corporate governors)
The fact remains that no society can exist without information. For an average person to survive in our modern and developing society, such an individual requires information. We need to know the direction of governments and other institutions put in place to guide our relationships. We require information on a constant basis on what to do and what not to do. In fact, we need information constantly and on a sustainable basis. Communicators have argued that no community exists without an adequate communications system to hold it together, with the mass media playing the highly important role of fostering societal integration. This responsibility is one of the highly sacrosanct roles of the media in any society.
The foregoing, in view of its great importance, therefore, demands a great burden on this discussant to highlight the role of information in promoting national development. An expert in Mass-Communications, Professor Onuora Nwuneli, in a paper, postulated that: “communications policies have to be framed in order to express a nation’s diverse communication activities as a whole; and to project these into the future and against the needs of the society and the individuals.” My perception of the power of information in my long walk in the corridor of power and media industry makes me subscribe to this brilliant assertion. In his words: “communication has political, social, technical, administrative and legal, as well as economic dimensions.’’ Communication, Nwuneli says, ‘’must be viewed as a resource, to be conserved, allocated and proportioned along with other resources; but it is also a fundamental need, a right and responsibility.’’ (From Model for an Integrated Mass Media System for Rural Development: A Paper Presented at a Seminar on the Role of Population in the Rural Development Strategy, in Monrovia, Liberia, May, 19-23, 1980).
IMPORTANCE For the purpose of doing justice to this subject-matter, I would refer to governance, in the context of political governance in democracies; and corporate governance institutions; public or private. Evidently, this subject-matter cannot be treated justly without an allusion to its management. It could be safely posited that information is as old as humanity itself. It is an activity, resulting in the processing and sharing of audio-visual, and some other dramatic activities which involve encoding and decoding of messages. Therefore, it could be argued that information is a process that is germane to societal and human development. From this point of view, communication is indeed a fundamental need, right and responsibility. It should be naturally expected that certain propelling and compelling factors must be in place to ensure that this important major requirement of any society, and its constituents is not only available, but also available in such a way that its purpose is not defeated or circumvented.
Given the advancements witnessed so far, it seems logical to argue that the success of humanity, is to a significant degree, a function of the ability of man to produce, convey, antedate, adjust and store abstractions, concepts and information. The scientific and technological revolution over the past few centuries have practically turned the whole world in what communicators refer to as the “global village”, making it possible for occurrences happening in any part of the world to be shared, viewed on heard simultaneously and instantaneously. It should not be baffling, therefore, that two revolutions have been identified as factors responsible for the transformation of the quality of lives of the human race. These are: industrial revolution and communication revolution. Mary B. Cassata and Molefi K. Asante (1979) argue that: “whereas the first, i.e. industrial revolution, was manifested in the mass production of goods; the second, communications revolution, was manifested in the mass production of symbols. “And whereby some social historians choose to regard these revolutions as separate events, others see them more as cause and effects, as sequential steps in the same process.’’ (Mass Communications: Principles and Practice, published by Macmillan Publishers, 1979;
From the time the first printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450, till the present time, the advancements recorded in information management have been mind-boggling. It is noteworthy that from the time the first photograph was developed by Jacques Daguerre till 1876, when Alexander Graham-Bell invented the telephone; up till the time Marconi discovered wireless telegraphy in 1895; advancements in telecommunications have become too common that by 1962, the invention of Telstar Satellite made it possible to make international live broadcasts. Time and space will not permit me to go on and on to highlight technological advancements which have continued to aid information management and dissemination. This leads me to the very important issue of highlighting the importance of communication flow as a means of ensuring transparency in governance; and in the long run, situate the fact that proper information management is central to good governance.
Governance, is being treated in the context of democratic governance and also corporate governance which deals with the management of public/private establishment. Different nations develop media institutions according to their own particular cultural, social and political needs. The press is so powerful that Bernard C. Cohen, an American communicator, in his publication: “The Press and Foreign Policy” submits that: “The press may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its leaders what to think about”. This is what communicators refer to as the effect of selective perception and retention as influenced by the gate-keeping roles of the media.
GLOBAL STIMULUS: Whether what is in operation in any society is the Authoritarian, regime, which allows censorship of the media; Libertarian, which encourages a free press and legally protected or Soviet-Communist theory of the press, in which the media and government are one, the objectives of the press are the same. Some of the objectives include; enlightenment, Education, Entertainment, bringing buyers and sellers together, promoting economic development. One important consideration of note is the ability of the press to shape or influence other peoples’ perception of events or occurrences. This is such an important task or duty which could easily make or mar a society. The press equally has the power of agenda-setting which makes the media capable of provoking discussions and guiding the thoughts of people and invariably, public opinion.
GOVERNANCE In whichever way one looks at the issue of good governance, it could be seen that the essence of having a government in place in any society is to primarily see to the welfare of the citizenry/corporate body, through the proper management and harnessing of the common resources. Laws regulating the conduct of people or organizations in different societies, therefore, differ from one country to the other. One common factor is that surprisingly is that most regimes, authoritarian and dictatorial dispensations inclusive, recognize the power of information and therefore promulgate legislations guiding the conduct of the press. It must be recognized that no system can be totally perfect. Similarly, no human being can be infallible. No matter the differences in socio-cultural, economic and political intentions, the essence of free flow of information is the same.
THE PRESS AS THE FOURTH ESTATE OF THE REALM In practical terms, government comprises three arms: Legislature, Executive and the Judiciary arms. It is the duty of the Legislature to make laws for good governance while the Executive arm is charged with the responsibility of implementation. The third arm, the Judiciary deals with the interpretation of laws. This means that the three arms of government, though independent of each other, have their roles and duties clearly defined. A French philosopher and jurist, Charles de Montesquieu in his book: the Spirit of Laws (1678) argued that “the judge and the prosecutor ought not to be combined in one person, for such would mean a tyrannical mingling of justice with the prerogative of mercy”. In essence, there is separation of powers among the three organs of government to promote checks and balances for the operators of the state-system. All over the world, it is the effectiveness of the legislative arm of government that distinguishes it from other forms of government.
From this point of view, it could be safely posited that some of the obstacles to the emergence of a virile polity in the developing world are traceable to the inability of these societies to introduce reforms capable of ensuring free flow of information, which could among others, assist in advancing economic development. Another identifiable reason for under-development is the lack of coherent implementation policies and awareness for the enforcement of rules and regulations introduced for the economic and political transformation, especially in third world countries. One of the constant manifestations of restricted information is under-development, poverty and abuse of fundamental human rights of the citizenry. The press has a cardinal responsibility of ensuring universal access to information in an unfettered and unrestricted manner, to provide for participatory roles by people, in the intricate act of governance.
LEGAL BASIS AND FREEDOM OF THE PRESS If the press must succeed in playing this very important role, it must certainly be empowered legally to function in any given society. Therefore, the freedom to seek information is guaranteed by a number of international instruments, to which nations of the world including Nigeria, are state-parties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “This right is similarly guaranteed in Article 9(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which is part of Nigeria ’s domestic law under the African Charter (Ratification and Enforcement) Act”. (From Chapter 10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990). Given the fact that freedom of the press and recognition of the fundamental human rights of the individual, including the freedom of thought and expression are the prominent hallmarks of democracy, it goes without saying that every sane society must make conscious efforts to protect these rights.
It is abundantly clear, therefore, that while the press would be credited with functional roles, it also does have responsibility for dysfunctional roles. From whichever point of view that one examines the role of the media in development, the press is an integral part of the society, contributing to the building of a robust polity. This is where the press comes in as the un-official fourth arm of government, with the responsibility of playing the role of the watchdogs of the society. The press has a duty to promote discourse on issues affecting the society as well as advising on how best the society should operate and be run. In virtually all societies, there are laws protecting all the operators of the state-system and the institutions, including the press. Similarly, and conversely too, modern societies have come up with regulations to insulate the society from malicious media. The importance can only be gauged by the universality of the belief of political systems in the freedom of the press, even as an agent of the Rule of Law.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT At the heart of the Freedom of Information Laws in several nations of the world is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern. The freedom to speak one’s mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty, but also is essential to the common search for truth and the well-being of society as a whole. Side by side with this development is the fact that the challenges set out in the various Constitutions of various democracies, or the various Freedom of Information Acts, are designed to promote the free flow and access of information in our world which is witnessing dynamic changes on an increasing basis.
It is worth recalling that the first freedom of information law was enacted in 1766 in Sweden, as the Freedom and Press Act with a view to ensuring that the Swedish Government did not pull a veil over official information which should be made available to the public. It is noteworthy that the Watergate scandal which saw the press publishing incriminating stories about the activities of former United-States President, Richard Nixon and which resulted in his exit from power popularized the legislation in America and indeed, the whole world. Some other after-effects are worth recalling here: Canada enacted its Freedom of Information statute in 1982, Ireland in 1997 and Japan in 1999. before then the Lockheed Bribery Scandal of 1970s which gave rise to increased need to check bribery and corruption contributed to moves for the enactment of Freedom of Information status.
Back home in Nigeria it is to be noted that the country has one of the most vibrant and free media in the world. The contributions of the Nigerian media to the evolution of a virile polity are inestimable. I salute the courage and resilience of the Nigerian media that have been won through sheer courage, determination, resilience, patriotism. and aided, of course, by legislation. Section 22 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria gives cover to the media and its practitioners. It states in part: “the press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass-media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the government to the people.” This clearly confers on the press the responsibility of being at the vanguard of the transformation of the society and the development of a viable political culture.
To be continued
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